Writing a Grant Proposal

The CFSR Office helps with the preparation and writing of proposals for both institutional projects and sponsored research for the faculty. As the faculty members are best able to show the passion and expertise for their own projects, they are expected to take the lead role in writing their proposal, but we will assist in organizing a strategy, polishing the narrative, proofreading, ensuring that the proposal meets all proposal guidelines and priorities, and the submission process.


Your basic goal in writing a proposal is to convince the funding agency that their philanthropic interests are best served by awarding you a grant. Not only is your project vital to society and the world of academia, but you are the best and most qualified researcher to do the job. Simple.
A successful proposal must clearly articulate:
• A statement of need or hole in the body of scholastic knowledge
• Why it is important to satisfy this need
• What methods you plan to use to fulfill the need
• How you will evaluate the success of your project
• Why you are the best researcher to do the project
• How much it will cost
The better case you can make for each one of these points, the better your chance of a successful grant application. If the funding agency to which you are applying has a set of guidelines on proposal format, then you must follow those guidelines to the letter.

Proposal Hints and Tips

Have you researched the funding agency for whom you are preparing the proposal?

To whom have they awarded recent grants? Do you know, have you contacted any of those people? Have you determined any anticipated new directions? Do you know how the review process is undertaken? (Specialists, Generalists etc..) Have you studied annual reports and guidelines carefully? Do you know if staff are receptive to personal visits or phone contacts?

Have you made use of every possible resource to develop a competitive proposal?

Have you asked a colleague (preferably some one who had success with proposals) to read a draft? Do you have the necessary institutional commitment for time, space, computer, additional personal, etc.?

Does your proposal clearly articulate a specific activity designed to address a specific issue to be undertaken by a specific individual?

Have you 'sold' yourself, established your credibility as a person competent for the task? Do you have a sense of the proper parameters for the project - or are you about to save the world? Can you tell this is a proposal written by a person - to a person?

Is the proposed project significant? To whom? To you as your organization’s advocate, to your clients/patrons, to your organization, to the community? In what way(s) is it significant?

Is there a direct relationship between the identified problem/need and the activities you have outlined and the support you are requesting?

Does the budget present a clear picture of the resources needed? Have you asked for too much or too little?

What will happen after the grant period? How will you know if you have succeeded in what you set out to do? What will you have to show? (think: assessment!)

Will a specific course, or the departmental curriculum, new changed/strengthened? Will you be able to present your results to your peers, in a scholarly journal/book or at a professional meeting?

Is this seed-money, a pilot project, or interim stage of a larger project? Does this project have wider application; is it replicable in similar settings?

Is it clear from the beginning of the project how you intend to evaluate- during the grant period, at the end? Is there an implicit long-range plan for growing/strengthening your organization? What do you intend to do next?

Does the very presentation of the proposal reflect the quality of your work?

Have you followed the guidelines precisely? Does it make inviting reading - good margins, sections (outlines) clearly marked? Is it a good reproduction? Are the appendices appropriate, clearly labeled and referenced? Are there no misspellings, rhetorical ramblings, vague assumptions?

A Final Question: If you were teaching Freshman English and this proposal was presented as a weekly theme, what grade would you give it?

Is it well-written, is there a logic in the flow of the argument? Is there a thesis coherently stated and cogently argued? Does the introduction give an implicit for what follows and the summary remind the reader of each pertinent point? Is it jargon-free, in the active voice, as succinct as possible? Does it follow basic rules of good writing?

Many of these questions are similar to those asked by proposal reviewers, who, whether they are intelligent lay persons or disciplinary experts, must be able to recognize several key points without difficulty:
1) That the request is an appropriate one for the funding source they represent;
2) That the proposed project has significance beyond the individual circumstance/situation;
3) That the project director/manager demonstrates clear understanding of the issue and of reasonable and creative (and replicable) approaches to addressing the issue.

Hopefully by now you are convinced that proposal writing takes work, creativity, work, imagination, work, persistence, and more work. That is all true. The process of developing a proposal requires you to do some intentional institutional planning, to put your dreams on paper, and to claim that your ideas merit support. This is a risk. But it is a risk worth taking.

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